The multi-award winner had a rocky start to his teaching career.
Originally studying to be an engineer, Chandar K failed his first year of university and ended up with a job at Disney World Florida.
It was an experience with a young girl who wanted to learn how to write her name in his language that led him to discover a passion for teaching.
“As I kept teaching her more of my language I got this really good feeling that I was doing something valuable,” he says.
He changed his degree to maths education – and failed for another four years.
“People told me to quit. People told me to walk out of teaching, you know, ‘you can't even pass maths. How are you going to become a maths teacher?’ I had every sort of negative connotation thrown at me.
“But I think deep down I knew that the only thing that was going to keep me happy was helping young kids and it's like because I went through those failures and I persevered to get to my goal, I think that's something that I can share with other kids to actually pursue their goals and be OK with the idea of failing, but just keep pursuing those goals.”
The Ormiston Senior College maths teacher chuckles as he reflects on his role now.
“My wife actually told me that ‘you don’t go to work, you actually go to a place where you have fun,” he says.
Chandar K's role keeps him busy as he strives to inspire his digitally-focused class.
“I think I'm constantly just in a state of almost looking for things to engage our students with. It doesn't stop. I'm always thinking about something or some idea that I could implement.”
He says technology has changed the game for math teaching, presenting both opportunities and challenges.
“In terms of using technology, definitely it's gotten a lot more adventurous, but I guess the challenge for a teacher is that because there's so much technology out there, you've got to constantly keep up with what's new and what's working with the kids at the moment.
“You can't just feel like ‘I've done this one little piece of technology, I used it and I'm good’. It's like ‘OK, so now what's the next thing? Is there another one that will engage students in a different way?’ So you're constantly searching, but it definitely has gotten a lot more fun.”
One memorable example, he says, is when he decided to use Sphero robots to teach students bearings a few years ago.
“I think the kids could actually see … how bearings are being used in the class. They learnt bearings within a couple of sessions compared to the old way of teaching where we would struggle for weeks to try and get that concept through,” he says.
He has also encouraged the use of video teaching amongst his team to enhance their pedagogy.
“…each one has their own YouTube channel … so I try to encourage the team to make videos based on their style, so they've got their own library of videos that they can actually share with their students as well, which actually encourages kids to kind of learn at anytime, anywhere,” the inspired educator says.
In fact, Chandar K started his own YouTube channel, infinityplusone, way back in 2013 – just for a trial to see how it would go, he says.
Originally, he wanted to test his theory that kids would only learn when they were ready to, and whether any students would be interested if he offered teachings outside of regular school hours.
“It kind of started ballooning to the point where last year I ran a tutorial live on YouTube from 8.30 till 10.30 at night, and I had about 450 students attend.”
Interestingly, those 450 students weren’t all his own – they joined the tutorial from all over the country, demonstrating a national need.
He says his YouTube lessons come in handy, especially around exam time, when students use them for revision.
“I wanted to actually shift that whole approach … creating an environment where learning can actually happen anytime, anywhere. And what I'm learning more now is that you can't walk into a classroom and expect all 30 students to be ready to listen to you at the same time, because the reality is that their learning styles are different, their learning levels are different, they come in with different prior knowledge.
“You really can't just do this whole standard chalk-and-talk in front of the board; it doesn't actually work unless all of your class is pretty much on the same wavelength. That's why I prefer the flipped model.”
Along with his NEiTA award, Chandar K was selected as the 2019 ASG Space Camp Teacher Ambassador and is set to jet off to NASA’s Space Camp in the US later this year.
He hopes he will be able to use some of his experiences from the camp in his classroom when he returns.
“I've never thought for a single moment in my teaching career that I'd actually be heading to Space Camp of all places – as a teacher you just don't think like that.
“For me, what I'll take most out of the Space Camp is meeting all these teachers and seeing what they are doing in their classes and respective countries to support kids and … expanding that network and actually swapping ideas from across the globe to see the bigger picture.
“That means I'll bring those ideas back to my school and to my community … to say ‘hey look, this is what they are doing. Maybe we need to start thinking about teaching in a different way, or even think bigger than just New Zealand and Auckland or within your school community – why don't we actually think bigger?’”
Not surprisingly, Chandar K has lofty goals. He has his sights set firmly on using his recent awards success as a springboard to achieving them.
One of his long-held dreams is to set up a STEM academy for disadvantaged Māori and Pasifika students.
He hopes to shift the thinking around his local area, South Auckland, so that people can see the value and potential of students with an interest in STEM.
His plan for the academy is for students to come in and work on their own STEM ideas, mentored and guided by leaders in the field.
“At the moment, there are kids coming into school and they think the only path to success is through university. But what I'm hoping to do is, if kids actually have ideas and then have creative solutions, why don't we give them a platform to actually let them explore these ideas?
“And in the process, what I wanted to do was have Māori and Pasifika students coming through this academy because one of the things that they were struggling with was [not having role models to relate to], so my aim was to actually increase the number of Māori and Pacifika role models in the STEM field so that they've got folks that can actually relate with them.”
He’s also keen to look into how to better promote the career of maths education to young people, to encourage them to take up the mantle as New Zealand’s current crop of math teachers reaches retirement.
Chandar K hopes that his award win will give him a platform to pursue his dreams.
“I think if I have a voice, if I'm sharing these ideas over the next few years, then potentially I'm hoping that people will take note … I guess that's why for me the NEiTA award here meant so much. It gave me a voice to actually speak to people and share ideas and actually think about what's the next thing that we can do to support some of these really at-risk students.
“I see 120 students on a yearly basis. And if I can actually make a positive impact on those 120 and if they can go and make an impact to their respective communities, then as a whole you're actually making an impact on the globe and I think that's what drives me.”